Conservation news

Nigeria pledges to restore nearly 10 million acres of degraded land

The government of Nigeria has announced its plans to restore four million hectares, or nearly 10 million acres, of degraded lands within its borders.

The West African nation is now one of 26 countries across the continent that have committed to restoring more than 84 million hectares (over 200 million acres) of degraded lands as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), an effort that aims to bring 100 million hectares of land under restoration by 2030. These commitments also support the targets of the Bonn Challenge, a global initiative to restore 150 million hectares by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa, but deforestation has become widespread amidst the country’s rapid pace of urban development and population growth.

“Nigeria is happy to be associated with the AFR100 initiative and Bonn Challenge. We are committed to restoring degraded forests to improve citizens’ livelihoods through food security, poverty alleviation, a sustainable environment and the achievement of the [UN] Sustainable Development Goals,” Bananda Aliyu, the director of the Drought and Desertification Amelioration Department at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment, said in a statement.

“Our government understands the environmental benefits of restoring degraded forest landscapes and hopes to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions, Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan of Nigeria.”

Climate mitigation efforts around land use, land-use change, and forestry are included in 83 percent of the climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), submitted by each of the 189 countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement.

Recent research has found that “natural climate solutions” — defined as “conservation, restoration, and/or improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands” — have huge potential to help meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius or less. The restoration of degraded forests and other landscapes was found to have the most climate mitigation potential of the 20 natural climate strategies examined for the study.

While there’s an abundance of research showing its environmental and climate benefits, restoration is increasingly coming to be seen as a good investment, as well. Close to $1.5 billion in financial commitments have been made to AFR100 initiatives, for instance. And more than $2 billion in private investment funds have been committed to restoration projects in the Caribbean and Latin America through Initiative 20×20, a country-led effort similar to AFR100 through which 16 nations have committed to restoring 53.2 million hectares of land.

Even proponents of restoration efforts caution that they must be carefully balanced with the need to produce more food in order to meet growing demand. That’s especially true in Nigeria, where nearly a third of residents rely on the agricultural industry for their livelihood and more than three-quarters of land is used for agricultural purposes.

Desertification in Nigeria’s Sahel region, the transitional zone between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savannas to the south, is said to threaten the livelihoods of some 40 million rural peoples, which is one of the reasons why the Nigerian government is looking to implement sustainable land use and forestry policies. The country is a member of the Great Green Wall initiative, which aims to plant a barrier of trees across the African continent as a means of combating the southward advance of the Sahara driven by climate change. Nigeria has also committed to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030; its commitment to restore four million hectares of land is intended to bolster that effort.

“We are thrilled Nigeria will join the many other African nations collectively building momentum in restoration, through AFR100,” Sean DeWitt, director of the Global Restoration Initiative at the World Resources Institute (WRI), which administers Initiative 20×20, said in a statement.

“The country has already taken bold steps to halt land degradation and desertification, demonstrating its leadership through the Land Degradation Neutrality process and the Great Green Wall initiative. I look forward to the significant role which Nigeria will play in the partnership.”

Mamadou Diakhite, Sustainable Land and Water Management Team Leader at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which hosts the AFR100 Secretariat, said, “We are honoured to have Nigeria as part of the AFR100 initiative and applaud the Government of Nigeria for this exciting commitment. Indeed, political will for restoration has never been stronger.”

A monkey in Lekki Nature Conservation Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Sigrid / Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001